CSO remains in the black and Muti charms at annual meeting

Sat Oct 17, 2009 at 1:58 pm

By Lawrence A. Johnson

The big news to come out of the Chicago Symphony Orchestra’s annual meeting this week was that the orchestra managed—just—to remain in the black in its 2009 fiscal year, with a razor-thin $20,000 surplus.

But, as intended, it was Riccardo Muti’s show Wednesday at Orchestra Hall, as he charmed the assembled trustees, guests and press with a quick engaging wit and quirky sense of humor. Expect more of the same at today’s town hall Q&A.

Officially, the CSO announced three prongs of his coming tenure as the orchestra’s tenth music director on Wednesday. Muti and the CSO will create the Sir Georg Solti Conducting Competition and Apprenticeship. In collaboration with Lady Valerie Solti, the project will provide a competitive opportunity and the chance for young conductors to study and train with Muti and other CSO guest conductors. Also the new CSO Mead Composers-In-Residence were named, and Mason Bates and Anna Clyne will begin their two-year term in September 2010.

Finally, as part of Muti’s ongoing humanistic efforts, there will be a CSO initiative to bring classical music to incarcerated juvenile offenders and “youth at risk.” No details were announced but the possibility seemed open for a CSO first—-the orchestra performing in Illinois prisons.

Also, while no indication was given of specific repertoire or artistic plans next season, Deborah F. Rutter, CSO Association president, stated that both Bernard Haitink and Pierre Boulez would continue their podium relationships with the CSO after Muti takes the helm next fall.

But more than the official announcements and financial details, what emerged most strikingly Wednesday was what an engaging and genuinely funny personage Muti is.  Here are a few of his comments and quips:

 On Conducting:

 “The more I conduct, the more I realize that I don’t know anything. What is behind the notes is impossible to understand.”

 “To move an arm in the air is much easier than to play an instrument.”

 “I can teach each one of you to conduct Schubert’s Unfinished Symphony. Five minutes! When the orchestra stops, you stop.”

 “[With the juvenile initiative,] “I will also not forget that you will expect from me decent concerts.” (A cell phone jangles in the audience.) “We will play a little better than that.”

 On Chicago:

 “It’s a fantastic city, but it’s too cold. I was not born in Oslo. But I think there is a chance to have a longer life [in a colder climate]. The cold keeps everything together longer.”

 Muti was also serious as well.

  “We can do something more than just play concerts for a distinguished audience,” he said. “We shall also try to reach people who are far away [from classical music] and never have the opportunity to hear it.”

 “It’s nice to get good reviews but [also important is] making society better.”

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2 Responses to “CSO remains in the black and Muti charms at annual meeting”

  1. Posted Oct 17, 2009 at 5:45 pm by Maria.

    Thank you for all the above but we’d like the video too to listen to him and enjoy every minute of this very interesting interview.
    Could you add more of his comments, please?

  2. Posted Oct 17, 2009 at 10:12 pm by larryj

    Those were all the Muti bon mots I was able to quickly jot down—mostly from Wednesday’s annual meeting at Orchestra Hall with a few more comments coming from a post-meeting group press conference. I’m not sure if a video is available.

    I agree that, in addition to his podium gifts, Muti is a wonderful and entertaining conversationalist. The CSO is aware of his PR skills and, hopefully, will make the Italian conductor more available to local journalists in the future.

    Lawrence A. Johnson

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